IT’S a Scottish institution commonly associated with the cosy world of the Beano, Broons and Our Wullie. But in recent days the word which has been cropping up frequently in relation to DC Thomson is “shitstorm”.

The Dundee-based media company has announced plans to cut 300 jobs in a bid to plug a £10 million gap in finances, which has been blamed on the economic downturn and soaring costs in areas including newsprint and energy.

Magazines are being entirely shut down while the jobs of senior editors and whole teams of journalists have been put under threat in the news titles.

It’s a move which is never going to be popular, but there’s been a furious backlash from employees of the firm – which has long prided itself on loyalty – who are angry at how it’s being done.

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One staff member said: “It has essentially been handled really badly.

“We’ve been drip fed info, and keep getting drip fed info that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

“Briefings and meetings keep on coming, and everyone is hugely stressed. Many staff are terribly upset and really angry.

“It’s the not knowing and the fearing what comes next. Some of those at the very top do not even seem to have a basic understanding of what some teams and journalists actually do. It’s insulting.”

Another source said: “It is a shitstorm. There has been the sense that the family are quite nice, they are quite good to work with – it is a company that has had that feeling.

“Sometimes the company might screw up but the overall ethos has been employees really quite enjoyed working there and liked the company.

“In 48 hours that has completely and utterly reversed.”

The news of the cuts caused shock and surprise among staff and in the wider industry.

DC Thomson, which has diversified into digital technology, radio and events as well as newspapers and magazines, had seemingly been weathering the storm which has hit media firms in Scotland better than many others in recent years.

The company’s history stretches back to 1905, when the Dundee Courier, owned by the Thomson family, and the Dundee Advertiser run by Sir John Leng, merged under the leadership of David Couper (DC) Thomson.

READ MORE: DC Thomson staff 'facing redundancies as £10m blackhole looms'

To this day it remains a privately owned firm and has five directors who are descendants of the founder and other family members involved in the business.

The Thomson family are firmly on Scotland’s rich list, with a net worth of around £1.5 billion according to the latest estimate.

Sources at the newspaper operations say there has been a “curious” absence of the Thomson family in recent days, where once they would have fronted such announcements.

The news was delivered to staff by Rebecca Miskin – who was announced as DC Thomson’s first ever chief executive to oversee the company’s entire media operation in 2021 – along with Tom Miller, the firm’s chief transformation officer.

Sources say they have been pushing a narrative that DC Thomson has been held back by being too “sentimental”, but some view them as being out of touch and not understanding the company.

“While other media organisations in Scotland were crashing, DC Thomson’s never did until now,” a source said.

“So maybe actually being sentimental helps it weather the storm and grow.

“That’s not to say some of this didn’t need to happen – but something this drastic is pretty unheard of.

“What it has done is really evaporated so much goodwill among what was a really loyal staff.

“There seems to be a change and a loss of any loyalty from the company to staff, who have been loyal through the years.”

Around half of the 300 redundancies will stem from the closure of all print titles at Colchester-based magazine publisher Aceville, which DC Thomson acquired in 2018.

At least six magazines based in Dundee are set to close, while there are expected to be around 50 job losses at DC Thomson’s news titles in Scotland.

Around 100 journalists have been informed they are at risk of redundancy, with a new structure unveiled for the newsroom which proposes merging some teams by location and specialism.

There has been criticism over the way in which decisions have been communicated to staff, including a failure to explain the basis for potential redundancies, editors being left in the dark over what is happening and question and answer sessions ending before all queries have been put forward.

Miskin, who is based in London, is said to have raised eyebrows by starting one video message to stressed staff last week by saying it was recorded “at the end of a long Wednesday” for her.

“It’s been a bit of a public relations disaster,” said one staff member.

“This is the biggest round of cuts in living memory.

“There is surprise it has been that many people and it will definitely impact on our ability to do quality journalism.

“There have been other times when they have been asking for volunteers for redundancy.

“But the problem this time is that all this new structure, and the decisions on whose people’s jobs are at risk, has been taken above the level of the editors.

“I would be more happy if this had been something the editors had decided at their level.”

DC Thomson denied there had been a lack of opportunity for staff to ask questions, saying three question and answer sessions had been held and senior leaders were available at all times.

A spokesperson added: “A range of support measures are in place for colleagues. Wellbeing support is being made available to all colleagues.

“Where redundancies become unavoidable further learning and outplacement support will be provided.”

The cutbacks have also been questioned in light of the company’s performance in recent years. It has been reported annual accounts show its shareholders have received £110 million of dividends in the past five years, with £24.1m paid out in 2022.

In the wake of last week’s announcement, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said the “jobs of hard-working journalists should not be sacrificed to pay the price of extravagant shareholder profits”.

DC Thomson has never officially recognised the union, but Nick McGowan-Lowe, organiser at the NUJ’s Scottish Office, said it would be fighting to protect the jobs of employees who are members and will write to Miskin to invite her to engage and “rescue the process”.

Neil Blain, professor emeritus of communications at the University of Stirling, said the DC Thomson situation was a microcosm of the question of generous shareholder payouts in British business.

“It is typical of a lot of not just the media industry, but even more typical of other industries where there are high dividend payouts, high shareholder payouts along with redundancies or refusal to increase pay,” he said.

“If it is the case there was more than 2.5 times the deficit paid out to shareholders last year, what was the basis for that decision?”

Blain said core titles at DC Thomson – such as The Courier and The Press and Journal – have been performing quite well.

“If 300 jobs are going in relation to the overall employment, that is tragic – these are jobs that don’t come back,” he added.

In response to the criticism over shareholder payouts, a spokesperson for DC Thomson said “money has been invested in media not taken out”.

“DC Thomson’s strategy and values place long-term sustainability over short-term profit and by making the changes announced, we can focus investment on creating a future facing and scalable business model for our media brands, safeguarding future jobs,” the spokesperson added.

“The changes we are consulting on are to ensure we have a sustainable media future, addressing the specific challenges facing this part of our business, and the structural shifts being experienced industry wide.”

Miskin has also stated said the moves are vital for the company to “thrive in the future and to respond to the difficult economic environment we are in”.

“Our goal is to transform into a strong media business, focused on delivering real value to the communities we serve, that can face the future with confidence, and is equipped to thrive long-term in an industry which is changing at an unparalleled pace,” she said.

“The transformation strategy already in place was addressing these fundamental industry shifts, but the need to change has been massively accelerated and magnified by the current economic crisis.”